The Donald Trump Silver lining: He's the best thing to happen to comedy since Sarah Palin

The mogul could be very good for American comedy, as Letterman, Jon Stewart and "Bloom County" have shown

By Scott Timberg

Published July 16, 2015 10:59PM (EDT)

Donald Trump              (AP/John Locher)
Donald Trump (AP/John Locher)

When Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president in the middle of June, it was greeted by political observers as an oddball declaration that would have little effect on anything but the real-estate mogul’s speaking fees and, perhaps, eventual book advance.

If it seemed like a bit of a joke at the time – “I’m really rich” was one of several odd lines he offered while announcing, along with a promise that, “I will never be in a bicycle race” and strange comments about the Chinese -- it seems like a grand, genre-reviving joke now. Trump is – intentionally or not – funnier than he’s been since his original heyday in Spy magazine in the ‘80s as the nation’s favorite “short-fingered vulgarian.” Alongside the rise of Amy Schumer, Trump’s candidacy is the best thing to happen to American comedy in decades. He’s better, even, than Sarah Palin.

And as he may just be getting started offering ridiculous lines (like his notorious assault of Mexican immigrants as bottom-feeding rapists), comics may be just getting going in turning his offensive nonsense into comedy gold. And given how well Trump seems to be faring in polls – sitting on top of several of them – he may be around for a while.

Let’s take a look at what’s happened so far.

David Letterman spent weeks signing off his late-night show – this seemed like the end of an era -- and we’d expected he’d be gone for a while. Letterman’s almost 70 now, and he’s been at this for a long time, and did not announce any plans to return to television or stage comedy.

“I retired,” Letterman said after walking onstage Friday night in San Antonio, Texas, alongside Martin Short and Steve Martin. “I had no regrets. None. I was happy, I’ll make actual friends, I was complacent, I was satisfied, I was content … and then a couple of days ago Donald Trump said he was running for president.”

He offered a Top 10 list that included a knock at the tycoon’s narcissism (“during sex, Donald Trump calls out his own name”), his distinctive comb-over (“That thing on his head was the Gopher in 'Caddyshack'”), and his unmistakable charm ("Thanks to Donald Trump, the Republican mascot is also an ass").

Letterman made his name by being bemused and nonpolitical, and these new jokes were, as usual, more about Trump’s buffoonery than his corrosive ideology. But one of Letterman’s greatest heirs, Jon Stewart, matches absurdist comedy with a progressive point of view. We’re especially looking forward to seeing what he does with Trump throughout the race.

“Donald recently glided back into my life on his solid gold up-and-down people mover,” Stewart said after Trump declared, “cranked up the unauthorized Neil Young, opened up his crazy hole, and promised me I would never be without material again.”

After Trump’s line about Mexican immigrants, Stewart not only pounced on Trump but on those who’ve backed him up. "It is hard to get mad at Donald Trump for saying stupid things — in the same way you don't get mad at a monkey when he throws poop at you at the zoo," Stewart said on his show. "What does get me angry is the ridiculous, disingenuous defending of the poop-throwing monkey."

And Trump, apparently, had at least something to do with the surprise revival of Berkeley Breathed's "Bloom County," a strip that thrived during the plutocrat-worshiping ‘80s and that has not published since 1989. From Fortune:

“With Donald Trump returning to the Political Spectum [sic], I believe it is only fitting [that the strip should return],” read one of the hundreds of comments made by fans after Breathed’s Sunday tease.

“This creator can’t precisely deny that the chap you mention had nothing to do with it,” Breathed replied.

Trump, Letterman, "Bloom County," Stewart … This race could get interesting: The possibilities are endless.

Scott Timberg

Scott Timberg is a former staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash. He's the author of the book, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."

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Comedy David Letterman Donald Trump Politics